Interpersonal Entanglement

Pre­vi­ously in se­ries: Sym­pa­thetic Minds

To­day I shall crit­i­cize yet an­other Utopia. This Utopia isn’t fa­mous in the liter­a­ture. But it’s con­sid­er­ably su­pe­rior to many bet­ter-known Utopias—more fun than the Chris­tian Heaven, or Greg Egan’s up­load so­cieties, for ex­am­ple. And so the main flaw is well worth point­ing out.

This Utopia con­sists of a one-line re­mark on an IRC chan­nel:

<reedspacer> liv­ing in your vol­cano lair with cat­girls is prob­a­bly a vast in­crease in stan­dard of liv­ing for most of humanity

I’ve come to think of this as Reedspacer’s Lower Bound.

Sure, it sounds silly. But if your grand vi­sion of the fu­ture isn’t at least as much fun as a vol­cano lair with cat­per­sons of the ap­pro­pri­ate gen­der, you should just go with that in­stead. This rules out a sur­pris­ing num­ber of pro­pos­als.

But to­day I am here to crit­i­cize Reedspacer’s Lower Bound—the prob­lem be­ing the cat­girls.

I’ve joked about the sub­ject, now and then—”Donate now, and get a free cat­girl or cat­boy af­ter the Sin­gu­lar­ity!”—but I think it would ac­tu­ally be a ter­rible idea. In fact, to­day’s post could have been en­ti­tled “Why Fun The­o­rists Don’t Believe In Cat­girls.”

I first re­al­ized that cat­peo­ple were a po­ten­tial threat, at the point when a friend said—quotes not ver­ba­tim—

“I want to spend a mil­lion years hav­ing sex with cat­girls af­ter the Sin­gu­lar­ity.”

I replied,

“No, you don’t.”

He said, “Yes I do.”

I said, “No you don’t. You’d get bored.”

He said, “Well, then I’d just mod­ify my brain not to get bored—”


Don’t worry, the story has a happy end­ing. A cou­ple of years later, the same friend came back and said:

“Okay, I’ve got­ten a bit more ma­ture now—it’s a long story, ac­tu­ally—and now I re­al­ize I wouldn’t want to do that.”

To which I sagely replied:

HA! HA HA HA! You wanted to spend a mil­lion years hav­ing sex with cat­girls. It only took you two years to change your mind and you didn’t even have sex with any cat­girls.”

Now, this par­tic­u­lar case was prob­a­bly about scope in­sen­si­tivity, the “mo­ment of hear­ing the good news” bias, and the emo­tional mag­netism of spe­cific fan­tasy.

But my gen­eral ob­jec­tion to cat­peo­ple—well, call me a sen­ti­men­tal Lud­dite, but I’m wor­ried about the prospect of non­sen­tient ro­man­tic part­ners.

(Where “non­sen­tient ro­man­tic/​sex part­ner” is pretty much what I use the word “cat­girl” to in­di­cate, in fu­tur­is­tic dis­course. The no­tion of cre­at­ing sen­tient be­ings to staff a vol­cano lair, gets us into a whole ’nother class of ob­jec­tions. And as for ex­ist­ing hu­mans choos­ing to take on feline form, that seems to me scarcely differ­ent from wear­ing lin­gerie.)

“But,” you ask, “what is your ob­jec­tion to non­sen­tient lovers?”

In a nut­shell—sex/​ro­mance, as we know it now, is a pri­mary di­men­sion of mul­ti­player fun. If you take that fun and redi­rect it to some­thing that isn’t so­cially en­tan­gled, if you turn sex into an ex­clu­sively sin­gle-player game, then you’ve just made life that much sim­pler—in the same way that elimi­nat­ing bore­dom or sym­pa­thy or val­ues over non­sub­jec­tive re­al­ity or in­di­vi­d­u­als want­ing to nav­i­gate their own fu­tures, would tend to make life “sim­pler”. When I con­sider how eas­ily hu­man ex­is­tence could col­lapse into ster­ile sim­plic­ity, if just a sin­gle ma­jor value were elimi­nated, I get very pro­tec­tive of the com­plex­ity of hu­man ex­is­tence.

I ask it in all se­ri­ous­ness—is there any as­pect of hu­man ex­is­tence as com­pli­cated as ro­mance? Think twice be­fore you say, “Well, it doesn’t seem all that com­pli­cated to me; now calcu­lus, on the other hand, that’s com­pli­cated.” We are con­gen­i­tally bi­ased to un­der­es­ti­mate the com­plex­ity of things that in­volve hu­man in­tel­li­gence, be­cause the com­plex­ity is ob­scured and sim­plified and swept un­der a rug. In­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships in­volve brains, still the most com­pli­cated damn things around. And among in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships, love is (at least po­ten­tially) more com­plex than be­ing nice to your friends and kin, ne­go­ti­at­ing with your al­lies, or out­smart­ing your en­e­mies. Aspects of all three, re­ally. And that’s not merely hav­ing a util­ity func­tion over the other mind’s state—thanks to sym­pa­thy, we get tan­gled up with that other mind. Smile when the one smiles, wince when the one winces.

If you delete the in­tri­cacy of hu­man ro­man­tic/​sex­ual re­la­tion­ships be­tween sen­tient part­ners—then the peak com­plex­ity of the hu­man species goes down. The most com­plex fun thing you can do, has its plea­sure sur­gi­cally de­tached and redi­rected to some­thing sim­pler.

I’d call that a ma­jor step in the wrong di­rec­tion.

Mind you… we’ve got to do some­thing about, you know, the prob­lem.

Any­one the least bit fa­mil­iar with evolu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy knows that the com­plex­ity of hu­man re­la­tion­ships, di­rectly re­flects the in­cred­ible com­plex­ity of the in­ter­lock­ing se­lec­tion pres­sures in­volved. Males and fe­males do need each other to re­pro­duce, but there are huge con­flicts of re­pro­duc­tive in­ter­est be­tween the sexes. I don’t mean to go into Evolu­tion­ary Psy­chol­ogy 101 (Robert Wright’s The Mo­ral An­i­mal is one pop­u­lar book), but e.g. a woman must always in­vest nine months of work into a baby and usu­ally much more to raise it, where a man might in­vest only a few min­utes; but among hu­mans sig­nifi­cant pa­ter­nal in­vest­ments are quite com­mon, yet a woman is always cer­tain of ma­ter­nity where a man is un­cer­tain of pa­ter­nity… which cre­ates an in­cen­tive for the woman to sur­rep­ti­tiously seek out bet­ter genes… none of this is con­scious or even sub­con­scious, it’s just the se­lec­tion pres­sures that helped con­struct our par­tic­u­lar emo­tions and at­trac­tions.

And as the up­shot of all these huge con­flicts of re­pro­duc­tive in­ter­est...

Well, men and women do still need each other to re­pro­duce. So we are still built to be at­tracted to each other. We don’t ac­tu­ally flee scream­ing into the night.

But men are not op­ti­mized to make women happy, and women are not op­ti­mized to make men happy. The vast ma­jor­ity of men are not what the vast ma­jor­ity of women would most pre­fer, or vice versa. I don’t know if any­one has ever ac­tu­ally done this study, but I bet that both gay and les­bian cou­ples are hap­pier on av­er­age with their re­la­tion­ship than het­ero­sex­ual cou­ples. (Googles… yep, looks like it.)

I find it all too easy to imag­ine a world in which men re­treat to their op­ti­mized sweet sexy cat­girls, and women re­treat to their op­ti­mized darkly gen­tle cat­boys, and nei­ther sex has any­thing to do with each other ever again. Maybe men would take the east side of the galaxy and women would take the west side. And the two new in­tel­li­gent species, and their ro­man­tic sexbots, would go their sep­a­rate ways from there.

That strikes me as kind of sad.

Our species does definitely have a prob­lem. If you’ve man­aged to find your perfect mate, then I am glad for you, but try to have some sym­pa­thy on the rest of your poor species—they aren’t just in­com­pe­tent. Not all women and men are the same, no, not at all. But if you drew two his­tograms of the de­sired fre­quen­cies of in­ter­course for both sexes, you’d see that the graphs don’t match up, and it would be the same way on many other di­men­sions. There can be lucky cou­ples, and ev­ery per­son con­sid­ered in­di­vi­d­u­ally, prob­a­bly has an in­di­vi­d­ual soul­mate out there some­where… if you don’t con­sider the com­pe­ti­tion. Our species as a whole has a statis­ti­cal sex prob­lem!

But split­ting in two and gen­er­at­ing op­ti­mized non­sen­tient ro­man­tic/​sex­ual part­ner(s) for both halves, doesn’t strike me as solv­ing the prob­lem so much as run­ning away from it. There should be su­pe­rior al­ter­na­tives. I’m will­ing to bet that a few psy­cholog­i­cal nudges in both sexes—to be­hav­ior and/​or de­sire—could solve 90% of the need­lessly frus­trat­ing as­pects of re­la­tion­ships for large sec­tors of the pop­u­la­tion, while still keep­ing the com­plex­ity and in­ter­est of lov­ing some­one who isn’t tai­lored to your de­sires.

Ad­mit­tedly, I might be prej­u­diced. For my­self, I would like hu­mankind to stay to­gether and not yet splin­ter into sep­a­rate shards of di­ver­sity, at least for the short range that my own mor­tal eyes can en­vi­sion. But I can’t quite man­age to ar­gue… that such a wish should be bind­ing on some­one who doesn’t have it.

Part of The Fun The­ory Sequence

Next post: “Failed Utopia #4-2

Pre­vi­ous post: “Sym­pa­thetic Minds